Today we wrap up our 7 week series called Upside Down: Life in the Kingdom looking at the radical, subversive, countercultural, and upside down Kingdom in which those of follow Jesus live. This Kingdom which may seem backward from how the world lives. This Kingdom, in which the King of the Kingdom, Jesus, tells us that the way up is actually down and to live humble lives. The Kingdom that calls us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us, and to do good to those who hate us. This Kingdom which calls the greatest are actually the children and the marginalized, and the pushed aside. A Kingdom where the first are actually last and the last are first. A Kingdom where if you want to truly live, to take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19), then you must die to yourself. And a Kingdom where the outsiders become the insiders, and a Kingdom where Jesus calls us to say yes to his call and then live yes to his call.
Today we wrap up our Upside Down: Life in the Kingdom series by looking at A Free Slave through the Scriptural lens of Matthew 20:20-28.
Matthew 20:20-28 says, “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked.She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”“ You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant( with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Before the text that we just read we see Jesus again trying to redefine what the people believe the Kingdom is really all about. In the first half of chapter 20 we read the parable of the worker’s in the vineyard, the one that Rachel unpacked so well for us a few weeks ago. He reminds them that the first will actually be last and the last first. Meaning the religious leaders who believe they have it all together will actually enter the Kingdom behind the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. And then Jesus tells his disciples for the third time that he will be tried, crucified, and then three days later he will be resurrected. But obviously the disciples and others still don’t get what kind of Kingdom revolution Jesus is truly leading. We see that because of the beginning of the text that we just read.
So at the beginning of the text that we just read we see the mother of James and John coming to Jesus to ask him a favor. We don’t know if James and John put her up to it, or this was her way of making sure that her two sons had a prominent place in his government (so to speak). She asked him a favor, and he asked her what it was. The words that came off her tongue no doubt show her misunderstanding of what Jesus Kingdom was truly all about. She asked Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom.” What she is asking is like asking the President to be the Vice President and Secretary of State. The two of them were all about power, prestige and position. The disciples desire for position and status showed they didm not yet know the nature of Jesus in respect to leadership and power. She believed, along with her sons, that Jesus Kingdom was going come to earth by means of violent overthrow of the Roman Empire. That Jesus was going to establish this Kingdom in Israel and the glory days of Israel would return. That he would rule from Jerusalem with no outside government ruling over them. And that they would be the ones in charge, and anyone getting out of line, would probably face some time of violent retribution. But Jesus Kingdom is the kind of Kingdom where the King of this Kingdom doesn’t spill the blood of his enemies. No, the King in this upside down Kingdom actually allows his enemies to spill his blood. Which takes us to his response to James and John’s mother (and to them as well as they were there as well).
Jesus responds by saying, “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” What is Jesus talking about when he means the drink that he will drink? Jesus is talking about the cup of suffering that he would experience going to his death on a Roman cross. He again is trying to remind these two disciples that following Jesus is not about power, prestige and position, unless the position is one of being either on your knees with a towel and a basin, or having your arms outstretched on the cross dying to yourself for the sake of others.
Their response, which was probably way to quick and definitely not thought out, was to answer Jesus with a Yes we can. And they would drink the same cup of suffering as Jesus. They would both suffer for Jesus in different ways. James would be one of the first followers of Jesus to die. And John suffered through imprisonment in various places and forms especially on the isle of Patmos. But while they would eventually also drink the cup of suffering that Jesus was going to through his trial and his crucifixion, they wouldn’t be granted places on either side of Jesus in his coming Kingdom. That is because those positions, those places belong to those whom God the Father has appointed them to.
After Jesus’ response to James, John, and their mother, the rest of the disciples got indignant with them. Why the indignation? Because no doubt all of the other disciples were also concerned about things like power, prestige, position, and they dreamed of being the group that kicked Rome out of Israel, and they would be the ones to establish, with Jesus of course, their own Kingdom and empire. They wanted to be hailed as conquering heroes. They wanted to be admired by all people, as the ones who finally set things right, and got rid of Rome. They were indignant because James and John and their mother asked Jesus first, and also publicly outed each of their secret motives, and desires.
Jesus knowing that the disciples had still not truly understood what his Kingdom of Shalom was all about, and that it wasn’t like the Kingdoms and empires of this world, needed to pull them together again in order to again show them what this upside down Kingdom was really all about, especially in relation to leadership, power and position. So Jesus pulled them together to express to them what the Kingdom that he was bringing into being was all about. He told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
He reminded them of the way that this world, and this Kingdom worked when he said that the rules of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. In this worldly Kingdom it is all about authority, power, might, strength, and position. The Kingdom of this world’s view of a King is radically different than the Kingdom of God’s view on being a King. In the pagan world humility was regarded not so much as a virtue, but as a vice. But in the Kingdom of God leaders should be about humility, service, putting others before themselves, following the lead of the King of this Kingdom.
What kind of leader, what kind of King, is this king of the Kingdom of God? He is the one who said to the disciples that if you want to be great, if you truly want to have position in the Kingdom of God, you must be a servant and a slave. But he didn’t just talk about being a servant and a slave, he actually put it into practice. He actually lived it. The King of the world. The Savior of Humanity. The Lord of all Lords….his model of leadership, which is radically different than the model of leadership found in this world, is best shown in John 13:1-17 during his last supper with his disciples. In that day and that age, when you would come into a gathering of people there would be a servant, actually the lowest of the lowest servant, would take off your sandals, and take a basin and a towel and would wash your feet before the gathering. That night no one wanted to be seen as the lowest of the lowest servant. They all were thinking about which seat they would sit in, how close could they get to the seat of Jesus, their position in the cabinet of the new Kingdom. So no one stooped down and washed anyone’s feet. Then Jesus realized this and he was the one to put on a towel, pour some water into a basin, stooped down and washed the feet of every single disciple in the room that night.
Jesus came to serve and not to be served. He actually had every right to be served. He is the King of the Universe, the Lord of Lord, the King of King, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Creator of all things, and he is over all. If anyone would have the right to be served, and not to serve, it would be Jesus. But Jesus came to this world to serve and to give his life as a ransom. To set free those who were enslaved to sin and wickedness, not least of throw who were in the grips of the lust for power and position and prestige like James and John. The word ransom used here, and in that world, is what someone might pay to give freedom to a slave. Jesus came to free us from being slaves to the Kingdom and empire of this world, and the ruler of this Kingdom and empire so that we could be freed servants to first serve Him, in return because of what he has done for us, and then to secondly serve in His name the world that is all around us. To serve our neighbors, our friends, those we work with, our enemies, anyone that we come in contact with.
If you want to be great, you need to be a servant. If you want to be a leader in a Christian community, including Veritas, grab a towel and a basin (either figuratively or even literally) and begin to wash other’s feet. In a Kingdom community status, money, popularity, power, prestige, etc.. should never be a prerequisite for leaders. Humble service is the great and right prerequisite for leaders in the Kingdom of God, following the lead of our King, King Jesus. Also if our community wants to be great, we also need to follow the model of Jesus. We should be a community known in the Lancaster community as a group of people who are willing to serve. (like next week with Labor for Lancaster) Who are willing to jump in and help. Who are willing to take up the basin and towel and serve the Lancaster community.
We have just introduced our new Servant’s Team, who will be seeking to lead our community so that we will be a community that blesses the world, grows deeper in our journey with Jesus and shares life together. This team is called our Servant’s Team because I believe that to be a leader in Veritas, you absolutely need to be a servant. So today we are going to end our conversation a little differently. Our leadership wants to follow in the way of Jesus by serving you by washing your feet. They will be coming around to wash your feet. If you are okay with them washing your feet, take off your shoes as a sign of being willing to have them serve you in this way. If you aren’t quite ready for that, that is truly okay. Just keep your shoes on.
Following the team washing the feet of this community, I’ll pray for us before Laura comes up and ends our time together in musical worship.